Our latest Newsletter

 

Dear Godparents and Friends

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year and I hope all your wishes for the future will come to be. Especially those like me who are embarking upon a diet as a new year’s resolution. Health wise I have to do something about my weight. Anyway I am home from Romania and once more its news time from Romania and also to inform you about our complementary work in England to help some of the poorest people in Europe.

Romania in fact, is one of the most recent countries to join the European Union, however since their membership we hear very little about the real poverty being suffered in Romania, either in newspaper or television. We are more likely to hear stories about Romanian gypsy beggars outside London railway stations and on the streets of our cities and towns. They are reputed to beg huge amounts of money daily using aggressive begging and children. Sometimes they are using musical instruments and most recently, on a TV documentary it was said that Romanian gipsies in London were dressing in Asian clothing, thus taking advantage of their dark skins to beg outside of London mosques, having been told that it is part of the Muslim religion to give to the poor, as it is in the Romanian Orthodox church.

Many times on the TV we are told about Romanian gypsies shoplifting, pick pocketing, selling counterfeit gold jewellery and counterfeit money. This is the type of story we hear on our TV’s and newspapers and very very little about the serious poverty in Romania. Sometime ago a Godparent from Manchester , who had been with us a long time , decided to stop working with Convoy aid as they thought something I said was anti gipsy. As travelling people themselves, they said they could not stay with us any longer. We were very sorry to lose them but I did tell them at the time that I have nothing personally against the gypsies. However I believe that the truth is the truth. And it is a fact that very many Romanian gipsies are now in England and other parts of Europe doing all the things that they have been accused of. I cannot honestly hand on heart say that they are all thieves, because I do not know this to be true. But the majority that I have come across in recent years, in Western Europe, would certainly fit the description.

I think it is a good idea now to go a little bit more in depth, for the benefit of the Godparents and the reason for this is because Pauline Sparkes from Bristol, a friend of ours from London, Jim Barlow and several others have asked me if the newspaper reports about the Romanian gypsies has had any effect on the charity. I do not think it has and I would hope the reason for this is that we keep our Godparents and sponsors fully informed of our actions and what is going on. I think generally, in the country people have a very low opinion of Romanians as unfortunately they seem to have all been tarred with the same brush. Please allow me, with my 21 years of knowledge regarding Romania, to enlighten you about some of the facts.

In Romania there are several types of gypsies and the most common one we all come across in Romania are the ones dressed in very bright clothing with gold coins in their hair, usually big cars and the men have very big black drooping moustaches and big black hats and usually black clothing, leather waistcoats etc. you see them in all the major towns and most recently they are also to be seen in Europe, not so much in England. These people are usually involved in buying and selling gold, currency exchange and buying and selling in general. Most of them are quite astute if not educated business people. However a proportion of them are involved in criminal activities and some of them are referred to as bulibasa’s. This term is like a captain or boss, someone respected by the gypsy community, a go between the lower and the higher classes.

Then there are the thieves, the clans as they are known as, which are criminal families and each area of Romania has its own clans. Different clans deal in different types of crimes, whether it is pick pocketing or other things. Further down as you drive on the roads of Romania, you will pass horses and carts loaded with scarp all heading for the major towns. Like the old style rag and bone man in England, these people will give you a small price for your metal and haul it miles away to scarp yards. They usually stop on the road side and sleep under plastic sheets. You can then go into the villages and find whole communities of interbreed poor gypsy families who in general steal to eat. The clothing they wear are either given to them or stolen and in some ways the question is, if nobody gives them work and they cannot find work anywhere, how are they supposed to live. For those without documents they can’t even get benefits of any kind and usually the houses they live in are the worst you will find , practically anywhere in the world.

Furthermore to come back to the beginning of the question, the gypsies that you see on the streets of England begging, stealing and committing fraud and benefit fraud are usually from the level I described in Romania as the thieves. Let me tell you that travelling to England by road, which is the general method, is not cheap. Some of these people have to borrow money from the richer gypsies to pay for their travels at unbelievable interest. The very poor in the villages that sleep on straw never know what the next food is going to be in broken down houses; these people you will not see on the streets of England. They have no means of getting here and do not have the mental ability to put such actions together. So the stories about all the gypsies in Romania coming to England are not true.

Some of the gypsy gangs that we hear so much about in England are not always Romanian although they may speak the Romanian language, many of them are Moldovan’s , Lithuanians , Bulgarians, even polish . So the answer is yes, we really do have problems, but if like myself you travel on the ferry boats from Calais to Dover, you would witness as I do, that these people are travelling to England with no problems whatsoever. It is almost as if our government could not care less. But I can tell you that the government at a very high level was warned, many years ago, by NGO’s and charities working in Romania and Eastern Europe that this was about to happen and that England , with its open door and well fare state was the preferred destination. We really have previous governments to blame for this.

The way this affects our charity is that some people we rely on for help, who are not Godparents and not sponsors, do not give clothing, shoes, etc when they hear its destinations being for the poor in Romania. So we are having great difficulties at present, actually getting clothes together.

Since the last newsletter we have lost three Godparents who have all sadly passed on but the good news is that two of their Godchildren were taken over by the families and the other Godchild we are busy trying to find a Godparent for. I am sure we should be able to manage this and we have also had four new Godparents. So Convoy aid is at the moment working on its normal financial strength. We are hopefully restructuring a little, possibly starting in January. The people who live locally and visit us regularly will have a better idea what I am on about.

For many years now we have had the use of a very big warehouse /deposit with a huge yard with an overhead crane. I think this used to be an old railway shed where they used to repair steam trains. The reality is , as most of you know, whenever we fill a wagon to go to Romania there was always some things that did not manage to get on to the wagon. Consequently they were put back in the warehouse and stored until the next truck. So there have been occasions, after 2-3 trucks, when we have had quite a bit of aid when a big effort was actually needed for the stuff to go. As we said before, the landlord has tried and tried to put our rent up as it has always been a very reasonable rent for the size of the property and as you will all appreciate it, we cannot go collecting things seven days a week without having storage for it, somewhere to park the forklift, pallets, vehicles etc.

As we mentioned before, the man next door at SIS Recycling, our neighbour wanted to extend. Sometime ago the landlord caught us by forcing us through blackmail to rent a long thin garage that was annexed to our store. We did not need it but he threatened to let someone have use of it which would have given someone else access to our yard and everything else. Anyway we have discussed this with several of the local Godparents, including Jim Barlow and everyone seems to think that it is a good idea that we let SIS have the big warehouse with the overhead crane and the majority of the big yard. In fact when the Romanian volunteers were here we actually built a wall segregating that area off.

The idea is that we are going to get a couple of big containers to go on our part of the yard; we are going to keep and pay the very small rental on this long garage and the agreement is that SIS recycling will pay the whole rental and all convoy aid will pay for is the little garage and the piece of the yard where the containers are stood. This is a fraction of what we were paying. We will then have sufficient parking for our vehicle and forklift and we still have the entrance road to back the big 40ft container into. There will be sufficient room at the end, to use our forklift to empty the two containers which when full will fill a 40ft box container vehicle to go to Romania. So rather than having things spread out all over the place we will collect it, box it , inventory it , store it in the sealed containers which are metal and free of any vermin and when we are just about full we will get the truck to come and everything can go directly to Romania.

The benefit to us is that there will be nothing left about the yard, the trucks will be fully loaded and the place will be ready to work on our return from Romania. The added advantage is what we actually save on rental will pay for extra transport to Romania. So it seems like a very good deal for Convoy aid and again, nothing is wasted, everything goes out and the money is used to the maximum benefit of the children. In fact the prospects for the children will actually be increased. What I have not mentioned is that whilst we are away in Romania and the yard is totally empty, SIS will use it for extra parking and pay the rent for us.

I think we all know the situation in rural areas like the one where we work in Romania. The poverty is comparable to any third world country you wish to mention. There are times in the summer, when the heat devastates the crops, where there is a real shortage of water and some of the wells actually dry up. There are also parts of Romania that have outbreaks of waterborne diseases that actually kill people. I watched the advertisements on TV, especially the charity ones and as you all know we have been putting wells in for families for many years. One of our Godparents told us that their mother, who has now passed on, always used to say that people have the right to fresh drinking water. She is absolutely right but I never see on TV anybody raising money for water projects in Romania.

The big problems in Romania are very little paid work, a totally corrupt health service, seriously bad winters ad seriously dry and hot summers. Romania is a new member of the European community and some people with knowledge would say that they should not be a member. As I have said before this is all about politics and not about the people. The rich are seriously rich and the poor remain seriously poor. None of us as Godparents expected to change Romania is a short term. It has always been a long term project to try and lift the standards for the people and at least give them hope and keep their heads above water. I can honestly tell you that the service that Convoy aid, through the Godparents do for the people in the area surrounding Bivolari works. It helps people to keep going, reassures families that there are people outside of Romania who care about them, like this Christmas.

We spent all our time giving out thousands of shoe boxes, huge amounts of warm clothing, shoes, wellingtons, hot water bottles, food, medicines, toys and many other things such as small furnishings, beds and indeed although I am home, the process is still going on. Although I am in England, I am literally a phone call away from Romania  . I would say that the biggest majority of people, who have a connection to Convoy aid through the Godparents system, would have either Gabriela’s mother telephone number or would know how to contact her and depending on the urgency of the call we are literally a phone call away. There have been occasions and Gabriela has been able to help people by making phone contact with officials and things like that. If there was an unbelievable serious problem with a Godchild whilst we are in England, I am absolutely sure that Gabriela will be informed about it within 24 hours.

This was not meant to be reassuring to me and Gabriela; this is meant to be reassuring to the Godchildren’s families. After 20 years it is common knowledge amongst the people that we do not get paid for this job, that it is done on a humanitarian basis and I would be surprised if there was any family within 50 miles of Bivolari, who does not know of the existence of Convoy aid from Bivolari and many people would have stories to tell about how we have helped people with operations and many special things, wells, floors, toilets, house improvements, food, bedding. Convoy aid’s program is passed from person to person so yes, when a family is fortunate enough for one of their children to actually have a named Godparent, it does give them a confident feeling that in a time of real need there is somebody to call upon.

It was many years before the people in the villages could be convinced that neither I nor Gabriela received any wage or payment for our work and indeed could not understand why some days we would do a 14-15 hour day, nor could they understand why we would work on a Sunday or the holidays. You must remember that these people come from a communistic background where everybody was supposedly equal and in reality does nothing for nothing. I must admit that one of the best things that Convoy aid has done is the seed appeal. We have enclosed, as usual, a separate reminder for the seed appeal which is the same as last year. Again without the need to say it, we always need gardening tools.

Important dates for this year are as follows:

For parcels and seeds the last date for us to receive them is the 15thof March.

For cheque donations there is no limit as the money can be sent over at any time. It is worth noting that Easter in Romania is on the 15thof April so if you wish to send something special for Easter please try to have the cheques with us by the 5thof April.

This year I took the Romanian lads back for Christmas. I must admit it was seriously cold , although the journey to Romania was a good one and the only incident that we had going to Romania was that one of the wiper arms, not blades, actually snapped with the pressure of torrential rain in Germany. So the whole journey was done with one windscreen wiper. Before leaving for Romania the van went in, had a second hand back axle, a special piece for the middle of the prop shaft, a second hand reconditioned gear box, repairs to the diesel uplift pump and injectors. The radiators were taken off and completely cleaned through, the power steering pump and fan belt were renewed, the starter motor was taken off, and new bushes were added as well as a new battery, two new tyres all for the full new MOT.

Two second hand wheels and tyres were purchased and equipped with snow chains; the idea being that if we had a problem it is easier to jack the vehicle up, five studs off wheel off, wheel with chains on, studs on. This is much quicker than trying to put snow chains on in the cold and wind. Luckily we did not need to use them this trip but probably will have to when I return. I spent all the time with the lads and other help delivering all the parcels, clothes, etc. and just before I left I caught a bit of food poisoning, had serious toilet problems and my problem with my ribs. I should have mentioned that a month before I fell in the yard on my return from Bristol and broke three ribs. It took over one month to start to heal but whilst in Romania I got fluid on the left side where the ribs had been broken and spent three days in the village hospital having the liquid drained off. Not something I would wish on anyone else.

I rang Jim Barlow and set off for England. I had my bed in the back of the van, I was on my own but I had my flasks, medicines and heater and the van seemed to be driving very well. I had a bit of snow and serious ice in the mountains but not sufficient to stop me. However, high up in the mountains, at a place called Bicaz there was a wagon coming down the road in front of me, the road was absolutely like glass and a small hatch back car flew past me, two wheels mounted the grass verge as the car entered the ditch it spun like a dart and went about 100 feet down through the forest where a tree stopped it. It was on its roof with its lights shining back up the mountain. I stopped, put on the emergency lights; it was dark at the time. Many others stopped and would you believe it, the two people actually climbed out of the vehicle. I drove up to where they left the road, nobody could get a signal on the mobiles so I volunteered to drive into the next town and inform the police who I believe must have gone back there as I drove on.

The way some people drive in the conditions always makes me believe that some drivers are absolutely mad. My next problem came, I bet you can guess, in Germany. It was night time, it was raining very hard, my wipers were struggling plus I was having problems with my stomach. I pulled into a lay-by near Passau in Bavaria, I had a chemical commode in the back that was given to me by Jim Barlow. I was so bad with my stomach I crawled back into bed and I decided to stay there even if it took a day or two until it was sorted. The lock was broken on the back side door and could only be opened from outside. So I took the chance and left the door opens a couple of inches to allow me to get out.

During the night I heard the door come open and torches shining in my face and a voice in English saying police control. I put my wallet with my passport right next to me just in case of any controls , I told the officers” I am sorry, I am very ill, I have problems with my stomach, I cannot get up but here it is my passport!”. It was quite apparent to any idiot that I was ill, that there was a toilet there with a toilet paper; I told them I did not smoke or drink so there was nothing in the vehicle whatsoever. He got very aggressive, told me they wanted the documents for the car. I say that the door was opened and the documents were in the front window with my disability badges. They were getting very aggressive and told me to get out of the van; I did not have much option, they ere all stood there with the hands on their pistols. Thankfully, on this occasion they did not take them out.

I go out, gave them the documents and they went away to check them. I climbed into the van and sat on the bed, he come back and I thought that he was now going to control the whole vehicle searching everything. I told them if they wanted to search to get on with it as I was too ill to help. One of the officers said something about the toilet and they decided to give me the documents back and told me I could go. As they walked away they slammed the door of the van shut. Of course it locked so I banged on the walls and the window and waved to them and they just ignored me. They got into their cars whilst I was shouting to them to open the door but they drove away. I went back to bed and I managed to get back to sleep. The next morning I had to climb over the front seats with the headrests and everything, the leg well was full of tools, heater, and personal bags. It was an absolute nightmare with three dodgy ribs and my size to climb over but I managed it.

I telephoned Gabriela and she said that it was a waste of time to complain because you cannot win. I remember saying to one of the officers “I am very very ill, is there really any need for this?” and the reply was that they were working on orders and doing their job. I would hope in England and any other decent country the first things that people would say is if the person needs a doctor or ambulance or any help. Maybe it is just my bad luck but I usually get the ones who have no humanity. The difference going through customs control in England, the absolute politeness and the enquiry as to whether I am well makes you proud to be British.

By the way the raffle was drawn, all three people were contacted and I am so proud of the Godparents because all three winners told us to put the prize money back into the charity account for repairs for the vehicle. Thank you very much. The raffle did not raise sufficient money to buy a van; we raised a total to date £1900. This money was used for the repairs for the vehicle. We have also received from Zumbathon Group in York through our friend Tanya Adamson the amount of £442 which they raised for us. This money will be put towards keeping the van on the road, taxing this week and also for international breakdown for the van and for insurance.

The last truck we sent out was loaded the fastest so far. Ann Helps, her husband and many of her church friends, Maureen and Dave from Acklam and Jill from Thornaby, all helped us to load it .A big thank you to everyone who helped!